Tale of Tales is like Disney on acid

Tale of Tales redhead forest 3.jpg

I had been dying to see this since its debut in Cannes last May, and my sister was generous enough to watch it with me the other night.

Tale of Tales is an extravagant fantasy horror film that revolves around three main stories: The first is about a barren queen (Salma Hayek) who is advised to consume a sea dragon’s heart cooked by a virgin, in order to conceive. The king (John C. Reilly) dies retrieving it for her, and soon both queen and virgin give birth to identical albinos.

Credit: Le Pacte

Credit: Le Pacte

The second story is about an absentminded king (Toby Jones) who obsessively tends to his pet flea, which becomes a whopping six feet long. After it dies, he has it skinned and turned into a tapestry. The king then decides to marry off his only daughter (Bebe Cave) to the first suitor who can guess what it’s made of. When an ogre guesses right, everyone’s like, “Oh sh-t.”


Credit: Le Pacte

Meanwhile, in a neighboring kingdom, a playboy prince (Vincent Cassel) falls in love with the beautiful voice of a mysterious woman (Hayley Carmichael). Unbeknownst to him, she’s ugly as sin. The prince is so desperate to win her over, he agrees to sleep with her in the dark. Naturally, he wasn’t very forgiving in the morning.

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Credit: Le Pacte

Matteo Garrone’s first English-speaking film is based on a series of 16th-century fairy tales by Giambattista Basile. Unlike the over-recycled stories by the Brothers Grimm, there’s something kind of fresh about Tale of Tales, or at least for an American, anyway. Some themes seem familiar, like class, greed, growing up and the desire to remain young and beautiful.

There’s definitely more sex and gore than the Disney movies. Imagine Into the Woods on acid. Hayek devouring a giant heart is pretty tame compared to other scenes, like an old woman getting her skin flayed to look younger.

I will admit it’s slow, and there’s not much indication that the three vignettes are connected until the very end. It’s one of those films you need to sit and down and digest.

But good God, is it gorgeous! The sweeping landscapes of Sicily, Apulia and Lazio are stunning, as well as the lavish costumes, especially those worn by Hayek. Also Alexandre Desplat’s original score is awesome and I’ll be downloading it very soon.

Header image credit: Le Pacte

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